Playing Catch-Up: The End of the Tour (dir by James Ponsoldt) and Love & Mercy (dir by Bill Pohland)


Two of the best films released last year dealt with troubled artists.

The_End_of_the_Tour

The End of the Tour opens in 2008, with a writer David Lipsky (Jesse Eisenberg) getting a call that the famous and acclaimed author, David Foster Wallace (Jason Segel), has committed suicide.  After learning of the tragedy, Lipsky remembers a few days that he spent interviewing Wallace 12 years earlier.  Wallace had just published his best known work, Infinite Jest.  At the time, Lipsky himself was a struggling writer and he approached Wallace with a combination of admiration and professional envy.  Lipsky hoped that, by interviewing Wallace, he could somehow discover the intangible quality that separates a great writer from a merely good one.

Almost the entire film is made up of Lipsky’s conversations with Wallace.  We watch as both the somewhat reclusive Wallace (who seems both bemused and, at times, annoyed with his sudden fame) warms up to Lipsky and as Lipsky forces himself to admit that Wallace might actually be a genius.  There are a few conflicts, mostly coming from the contrast between the withdrawn Wallace and the much more verbose Lipsky.  Lipsky’s editor (Ron Livingston) continually pressures him to ask Wallace about rumors that Wallace was once a drug addict.  But, for the most part, it’s a rather low-key film, one that’s more interested in exploring ideas than melodrama.  It’s also a perfect example of what can be accomplished by a great director and two actors who are totally committed to their roles.  Jason Segel, especially, gives the performance of his career so far.

The shadow of Wallace’s suicide hangs over the entire film.  Throughout their conversation, Wallace drops hints about his own history with depression.  Much as Lipsky must have done after Wallace’s suicide, we find ourselves looking for clues to explain his death.  But ultimately, Wallace remains a fascinating enigma in both life and death.

Love_&_Mercy_(poster)

Love & Mercy (dir by Bill Pohland)

Love & Mercy opens with Cadillac saleswoman Melinda Ledbetter (Elizabeth Banks) selling a car to a polite but nervous man (John Cusack).  The man sits in the car with her and rambles for a bit, mentioning that his brother has recently died.  Soon, the man’s doctor, Eugene Landy (Paul Giamatti), shows up and Melinda learns that the man is Brian Wilson, a musician and songwriter who is famous for co-founding The Beach Boys.  After having a nervous breakdown decades before, Brian is now a recluse.  He and Melinda start a tentative relationship and Melinda quickly discovers that Brian is literally being held prisoner by the manipulative Dr. Landy.

Throughout the film, we are presented with flashbacks to the 1960s and we watch as a young Brian (Paul Dano) deals with both the pressures of fame and his own relationship with his tyrannical father (who, in an interesting parallel to Brian’s later relationship with Landy, is also Brian’s manager).  As Brian struggles to maintain his grip on reality, he obsesses on creating “the greatest album ever.”

Love & Mercy is an enormously affecting story about both the isolation of genius and the redeeming power of love.  Whether he’s played by Cusack or Dano, Brian Wilson remains a fascinating and tragic figure.  It’s hard to say whether Cusack or Dano gives the better performance.  Indeed, they both seem to be so perfectly in sync with each other that you never doubt that the character played by Paul Dano will eventually grow up to become the character played by John Cusack.  Both of them do some of the best work of their careers in Love & Mercy.

The Chicago Film Critics Society Rounds Up The Usual Suspects!


 The Chicago Film Critics Society announced their nominations for the best of 2015 yesterday and it’s pretty much the usual suspects, with a few unexpected names tossed in as well!  Check them out below and try not to get on the Mayor’s bad side because I hear he’s one scary guy.

BEST PICTURE
Carol
Inside Out
Mad Max: Fury Road
The Revenant
Spotlight

BEST DIRECTOR
Todd Haynes–Carol
Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu–The Revenant
Tom McCarthy–Spotlight
Adam McKay–The Big Short
George Miller–Mad Max: Fury Road

BEST ACTOR
Christopher Abbott–James White
Leonardo DiCaprio–The Revenant
Michael Fassbender–Steve Jobs
Eddie Redmayne–The Danish Girl
Jason Segel–The End of the Tour

BEST ACTRESS
Cate Blanchett–Carol
Brie Larson–Room
Charlotte Rampling–45 Years
Saoirse Ronan–Brooklyn
Charlize Theron–Mad Max: Fury Road

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Benicio Del Toro–Sicario
Sam Elliott–Grandma
Mark Rylance–Bridge of Spies
Michael Shannon–99 Homes
Sylvester Stallone–Creed

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Jennifer Jason Leigh–Anomalisa
Jennifer Jason Leigh–The Hateful Eight
Cynthia Nixon–James White
Kristen Stewart–Clouds of Sils Maria
Alicia Vikander–Ex Machina

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
Bridge of Spies–Matt Charman and Joel & Ethan Coen
Ex Machina–Alex Garland
The Hateful Eight–Quentin Tarantino
Inside Out–Pete Docter, Meg LeFauve and Josh Cooley
Spotlight–Tom McCarthy & Josh Singer

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
Anomalisa–Charlie Kaufman
The Big Short–Adam McKay & Charles Randolph
Brooklyn–Nick Hornby
Room–Emma Donoghue
Steve Jobs–Aaron Sorkin

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY
Carol–Edward Lachman
The Hateful Eight–Robert RIchardson
Mad Max: Fury Road–John Seale
The Revenant–Emmanuel Lubezki
Sicario–Roger Deakins

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE
Carol–Carter Burwell
The Hateful Eight–Ennio Morricone
Inside Out–Michael Giacchino
It Follows–Disasterpeace
Mad Max: Fury Road–Junkie XL

BEST ART DIRECTION/PRODUCTION DESIGN
The Assassin
Brooklyn
Carol
Crimson Peak
Mad Max: Fury Road

BEST EDITING
The Big Short–Hank Corwin
Mad Max: Fury Road–Jason Ballantine & Margaret Sixel
The Martian–Pietro Scalia
The Revenant–Stephen Mirrione
Spotlight–Tom McArdle

BEST FOREIGN-LANGUAGE FILM
The Assassin
The Look of Silence
Phoenix
Son of Saul
White God

BEST DOCUMENTARY
Amy
Cartel Land
The Hunting Ground
The Look of Silence
Where to Invade Next

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE
Anomalisa
The Good Dinosaur
Inside Out
The Peanuts Movie
The Shaun the Sheep Movie

MOST PROMISING PERFORMER
Christopher Abbott–James White
Bel Powley–The Diary of a Teenage Girl
Geza Rohrig–Son of Saul
Amy Schumer–Trainwreck
Jacob Tremblay–Room

MOST PROMISING FILMMAKER
Alex Garland–Ex Machina
Marielle Heller–The Diary of a Teenage Girl
Josh Mond–James White
Laszlo Nemes–Son of Saul
Bill Pohlad–Love & Mercy